Swiss art sales set a steady, humble pace


Some of the artworks on sale in yesterday's auction were shown in an exclusive preview, promoted by Christie's in a Swiss private bank in Bern. Alice Bailly's "Fleurs et Figures" (1915), left, and Giovanni Segantini's "Effeto di Luna" (1882), right, fetched some of the highest bids of the night. E.T. Simantob

Giacometti paintings led an intense night of bidding at Christie’s annual auction of Swiss art in Zurich. Netting a total CHF5,369,500, the auction house also bucked the downward trend of Swiss art sales in the last few years.

This content was published on September 19, 2018 - 18:14

The auction attracted interest from clients from 20 countries (+50% on 2017) with an increase in registered bidders of 48% over the same sale last year. The number of new registrants also doubled. Many artworks fetched values far above their highest estimates while the auction also featured more contemporary pieces (see gallery below).

Hans-Peter Keller, Impressionist and Modern Art specialist at Christie’s in Zurich, told that the demand for more contemporary works is an imperative, as “sooner or later the offer of traditional pieces will diminish considerably”.

The numbers prove Keller right: according to, since 2000, the share of contemporary art in global sales jumped from 3% to 15%, while 19th century and Old Masters saw a steady decrease from 45% in 2000 to 15% in 2017. Modern art – mainly first half of the 20th century – covers approximately half of the total world sales, and post-War art also increased significantly - from around 5% in 2000 to 20% last year.

Swiss art, however, has seen better years in terms of volumes of sales. When the main international auction houses, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, started to exclusively auction Swiss art at the beginning of this century, the figures were impressive: at its peak in 2007, total sales of the two houses reached CHF85 million.

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The financial crisis is seen as the main culprit for the radical plunge experienced by this market in 2008-09. Even with some rebounds in 2011 and 2013, sales of Swiss art hardly pass the CHF20 million range, even though demand for more traditional pieces is still strong among Swiss collectors.

“Apart from the so-called ‘patriot collectors’ in Switzerland, such as Christoph Blocher, most collectors of Swiss art abroad have a more conservative taste, looking for art that evokes the Swiss landscape and traditional lifestyle”, says Keller. Meanwhile, emerging Asian, and mainly Chinese, collectors also prefer to invest in more established artists. For Keller, that is not surprising. “It may take one or two generations of collectors to make bolder moves into contemporary art”.

For Swiss artists, however, an international career is the only way to find appreciation in Switzerland. This hasn’t changed in over a century, despite Switzerland being the 7th largest international art market (with 1.1%  total market share, which is not bad considering that almost 85% is split between the US, China and the UK)), but only the 20th in contemporary art sales.

There is still more to come in 2018, as Sotheby’s runs its second auction of Swiss art of the year in November, possibly shedding more light on the trends for 2019.

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